Netherlands Yearly Meeting

The first query asks how global change has affected our communities and ourselves.

First of all, for historical reasons, climate change is a deeply felt concern in Dutch society generally, a concern shared by Friends.

But this is not the only dimension of Global Change affecting Dutch society negatively.

Throughout the centuries the Netherlands, known for its religious tolerance, was a safe haven for many refugees who were oppressed elsewhere. Immigration has been a fact of life for hundreds of years. Most of the time nearly 15% of the population were immigrants who settled here from elsewhere, fleeing war or religious oppression.

Recently however, the mood has changed. People are becoming less tolerant of immigrants settling amongst us. The multicultural, multireligious and multilingual society is no longer considered enriching, but rather threatening. A right wing populist political party has arisen that is outright anti-Islamic and could be termed racist!

This is where the globalisation of free movement and the globalisation of the so-called free market meet: this has recently become a problem because of the global economic crisis and recession. People loose their jobs, are forced into minimum income brackets, if not poverty and feel threatened by ‘newcomers’- who sometimes even benefit from ‘positive discrimination’ when it comes to sharing in societal services.

 The challenge here, not just for Friends, is that we uphold international law, human – and constitutional rights at all time: everyone living in this country has equal rights and freedom of religion. In Quaker terms: the challenge to Friends is that we faithfully maintain our Testimonies of equality, truth, simplicity and peace in the midst of this turbulent political situation!
The second query asks what actions we have taken t express our responsibility towards all creation.

We decided as Yearly Meeting to support important environmental activities to curb CO-2 emissions and the loss of biodiversity. Next to this we set up a 1% fund to support sustainable projects by Friends in the southern hemisphere.

The third query asks what role faith has in our life and in what way Friends bear witness to our Testimonies. The fifth query is close to this on: it asks how we may bear witness with justice, compassion and peace…

As indicated earlier these challenges have indeed deepened the spiritual life of Netherlands YM. We feel inspired to continue challenging one another to develop lifestyles and attitudes in keeping with our Testimonies. As a corporate body we also lent our support to important activities developed by environmental and nature protection organisations. At the same time we continue as vigorously as possible our peace and service work.

The fourth query is about catastrophic happenings –perhaps from Scripture, perhaps regional or local which might inspire us.

The tidal flood of 1953 and the Scripture reading about Noah play an important part in urging Dutch Friends on in their concern for combating climate change and sustainability.

 The sixth query asks how we may support one another in rekindling our love for God’s creation so that we may become messengers of the transforming power of love and hope.
If the “we” here is understood as the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) worldwide, we would need to rediscover our prophetic voice and become champions again of a worldwide campaign – this time not to abolish slavery. but to achieve sustainability and peace in this century. A campaign embedded in the work programme of our Quaker agencies. In order to stimulate the discernment process involved here the EMES Global Change Group offered an additional set of queries on Friends and Global Change which should be considered part of the response to this sixth query:


  1. Do we as a world-wide Quaker community faithfully maintain our testimonies of equality, simplicity, truth, justice and peace in the face of the global challenges of our time? Do we translate them into action at local, national and international levels when called to do so?

  2. Do we as a world-wide Quaker community take up our responsibilities for the conduct of local, national and international affairs in responding effectively to the interlocking economic, ecological, climatic, food, energy and political/institutional crises?

  3. Do we as a world-wide Quaker community encourage our international Quaker agencies (FWCC, QUNO, QCEA) sufficiently to contribute to the necessary transformation of the current economic system into a more just and equitable economy? Remember this also requires us to support and respond to these agencies’ projects, publications and calls.
  4. Do we as a world-wide Quaker community actively stimulate our International Quaker agencies working within the framework of the United Nations to also work for the reform of the international institutions (UN, Security Council, IMF, World Bank, WTO etc) themselves, so as to equip them better to build a truly sustainable just and peaceful world order?
  5. Do we as world-wide Quaker community urge our Quaker agencies on to engage in combating climate change effectively by helping to strengthen the United Nation’s capabilities towards this end? Remember this would first and foremost involve urging our national governments to take appropriate and meaningful action in this respect.
  6. Do we as a world-wide Quaker community support our international Quaker agencies in working towards abolishing war as an instrument to settle conflicts, disarmament and a ‘global zero’ for all weapons of mass destruction?


For Friends in the Netherlands the concern for more sustainability is a deeply felt one. It is particularly – but not only – climate change that is a deeply felt concern. The roots of this concern are two-fold.

First of all in 1953 tidal waves swept away most of the south-western part of the country. Many people drowned, all of the cattle got killed, most houses seriously damaged, the arable land salinated so that it was difficult to farm for many years to come. The images were imprinted in the Dutch soul and memory…..

Countries elsewhere in the world offered assistance in the aftermath of this disaster; amongst them also Pakistan (!) – a country that suffered from a similar catastrophe just recently.
In a country like ours, situated as it is in a river delta, where two –thirds of the land surface is actually situated below sea level, climate change is a genuine risk!
At the time in the 1950’s it was decided to reinforce our world-famous dikes and flood barriers. In view of the rising sea level predicted due to climate change however, we have become increasingly convinced in the Netherlands that (such) technical solutions are no longer the answer. And even if they were: the Netherlands might be able to implement costly technical works to prevent us from flooding, but would that be fair towards e.g. Bangla Desh or small island states in the Pacific?
The second reason is that the Dutch people –Quakers included- are well aware that there are lots of countries elsewhere in the world that are likewise threatened by climate change, either because they similar low-lying delta areas or they are islands that will be swallowed by the sea. So it is a global challenge which requires global counterveiling action!
Friends in the Netherlands brought this concern several times to our FWCC Triennials and World Conferences. The first time this was at the Triennial in Japan in 1988. The Netherlands Yearly Meeting representative brought a minute to the Triennial urging Friends worldwide to make the –then- World Council of Churches overarching theme of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation part of the work programme of FWCC in the flowing years. In later years Netherlands Yearly Meeting re-confirmed the urgent need to do as expressed in this1988 minute several times.
One of these occasions was the Triennial in the Untied Kingdom in 1997. Yet again a minute of Dutch Friends was presented to Friends gathered at the Triennial. At the same time Britain Yearly Meeting brought a minute before the Triennial expressing concern about climate change. It resulted in a minute of the Triennial calling on Friends to become aware of the challenge posed by climate change, to cooperate with others, other organisations and governments to combat climate change and – in order to do so – develop alternative sustainable economies and lifestyles. And Friends, did we?
Later at the Triennial in the United States in 2000 Friends adopted a minute stimulating us to plant trees in order to offset the CO2 emissions involved in our travelling to meet one another. Friends in the Netherlands proposed FWCC – Europe and Middle East Section to have these trees planted in Kenya by Kenyan Friends and paid for by EMES Friends.
Although this is a welcome project, it obviously does not answer the more fundamental challenge to radically change the global economic system and the lifestyle underpinning it.
Again, at the Triennial in New Zealand in 2004, Dutch Friends urged QUNO to incorporate work concerning sustainability and climate change in their work programme, perhaps even by posting a Quaker representative to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) at Nairobi.

More recently a minute was presented to the Triennial in Ireland (2007) which was based on a minute adopted by a European group of Friends meeting at a “border-meeting” at Strasbourg in France. Both Netherlands YM and France YM decided to endorse and forward this minute to the Triennial in Ireland. In a sense the discernment process set into motion by this particular minute resulted in the decision to start the current Friends and Global Change process…

Several times Yearly meetings sessions of Friends in the Netherlands had sustainability as a theme. This was quite explicitly so at our Yearly Meeting in 2008.

The theme was: ‘Sustainability: where is your limit?’, referring to the famous ‘Limits to growth’ report of the Club of Rome. Friends calculated their own ecological footprint and CO2 emissions and were challenged to reduce them.
 At this meeting Dutch Friends decided that Yearly meeting would become a signatory of two important statements of nature protection and environmental movements, one calling for a Climate Law to curb CO2 emissions and one to counter the loss in biodiversity, “Countdown-2010”. Last, but not least, Friends also decided to call on one another to voluntarily donate over and above their usual donations 1% of their income annually to a fund which would subsidize projects aimed at sustainability, particularly in the southern hemisphere of our world. One of the relevant minutes said: ‘Next to this we also wish to continue inspiring one another to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle’…

During the opening session of this particular Yearly meeting the Clerk read from Genesis 9 verses 8-17 during the silence:

God said to Noah and his sons: I am now establishing a covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, all birds and cattle, all that have come out of the ark. I shall sustain my covenant with you: never again will there be a flood to lay waste the earth. God said, “For all generations to come, this is the sign which I am giving of the covenant between myself and you and all living creatures with you: my bow I set in the clouds to be a sign of the covenant between myself and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds. Then I shall remember the covenant which I have made with you and with all living creatures: never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all creation. Whenever the bow appears in the cloud, I shall see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and living creatures of every kind on earth.” So God said to Noah, “this is the sign of the covenant that I have established with all that lives on earth”

So Friends: what gives us the right to risk all life on this planet and to ignore the responsibility entailed in the stewardship of God’s creation, by causing a man-made catastrophic flood through climate change?

This time, let us take this Friends and Global Change discernment process quite seriously and let us be prophetic voices of our day-and-age, let us be ‘salt and light’ of the world and contribute creatively and corporatively towards solutions to the problems we are facing when considering global change!

 A Personal note from Kees Nieuwerth, Netherlands YM Clerk:
I am increasingly convinced that the different crises we are facing are interlocked: the economic, ecological, climatic, food, energy and security crises are all intertwined. In a sense I am also convinced that the economic crisis is the root cause of it all. I shall return to this later in this document.

The flood disaster in 1953 hit the Netherlands when I was merely a young boy, nevertheless it had its impact on me… Also at a young age I asked my father: “Do birds and butterflies also go to heaven? He pondered about this for a while and then said: “No, I do not think so!” I then responded that if there were no birds and butterflies in heaven, I did not want to go to heaven either!

 Later I trained as a planner and ecologist, working as a civil servant with the Ministry of Agriculture and Nature Conservancy.
I was delegated by the Council of Churches in the Netherlands to be a member of the “Ecology and Economy” working group of the Conference of European Churches’ Church and Society Commission (then Ecumenical Centre for Church and Society) at Brussels, lobbying with the European Union. Working with this working group, first as a member and later as its moderator, we published several documents on sustainability for the dialogue with European policymakers and politicians:

The dominant economic model and sustainable development: are they compatible (1995)

Sustainable development and the marker economy: integrating environment in EU economic and employment policies (2000)

Sustainable development and the European Union: the need to develop new strategies and new lifestyles (2002).

 Serving as Netherlands Yearly Meeting’s representative on the Council of Churches I was also involved in a dialogue with Dutch government Ministers on sustainability. For this dialogue I co-authored two further documents entitled:

A sustainable global society: an ecumenical contribution towards Johannesburg (2002)

Sustainable development: are we making any progress? (2004)

 An important part of the interlocking global change challenges facing us is to do with the way in which the science of economy is being practised today. Some would argue that the dominant economic model might even be considered unethical or immoral in itself, not just to fellow humans, but increasingly also towards all living creatures (under the covenant of Noah)! Throughout the history of Quakerism this has been seriously criticised. To begin with our Testimony of Simplicity (Sustainability?), on to John Woolman in his Plea for the Poor or The Economics of Evil. And later, well-known Quaker economists have similarly questioned the way in which economy is practised. Here we might mention a truly visionary economist like Kenneth Boulding, but also Tom Head and –more recently – in a study developed at Woodbrooke, our Irish Friend Tony Weekes.
 And as Shane Claiborne, a young radical American preacher who was invited to address Friends General Conference in 2009, reminds us in his book The Irresistible Revolution:

Jesus’ own teaching is packed with stories about debt, workers wages, redistribution, and caring for the poor…Scriptures are laced with teachings on economics…’ And he continues by writing that God’s economy which Jesus is teaching us about is rather different from the dominant economic model today!